Although I never officially joined a survivor network that met in person, I did turn to different online communities and forums for support and information. The DBCC put me in touch with a mentor and we emailed throughout my treatment; I joined the online forum with the Young Survivors Coalition and used their message boards to ask about treatments, hair loss, fertility, etc; I turned to other breast cancer bloggers; and ironically I was put in contact with another woman from my oncologist’s office who was diagnosed at the same age as me. I do truly believe that connecting with others who had been through what I was going through was extremely beneficial as I navigated the ‘unknown.’
The information below is courtesy of David Haas. David is a cancer patient advocate who enjoys writing and researching for the betterment of others. You can also find some of his future guest blog posts on the Mesothelioma Cancer Alliance’s blog. Thanks David!
The Benefits of Cancer Survivor Networks
Finding support during the cancer treatment experience is of vital importance to a patient’s wellbeing. Support groups that meet online or in person offer the opportunity to share experiences and feelings. Some groups focus on all types of cancer and others address specific types. These groups can help someone with a more common disease such as skin cancer and there are even groups out there for rare aggressive diseases like mesothelioma that is triggered from asbestos exposure.
The biggest benefit of a cancer support group is the emotional support it provides. Cancer patients face many challenges on the emotional level and are often overwhelmed by the worry and anxiety they are experiencing. This places a large burden on a body already taxed by chemotherapy or other treatments. Many health care teams consider a support group to be a required part of any treatment plan.
Most support groups meet in person in hospitals, community centers and churches. They are led by doctors, social workers or mental health care professionals who have treated cancer or understand the unique challenges of the situation. Just talking about the thoughts and feelings that arise during cancer treatment has been shown to reduce stress in the patient. Keeping stress managed plays a large part in successfully treating the cancer.
Other groups meet online in forums and chat rooms. This may be preferable for those who are not able to leave their homes or are otherwise uncomfortable going to a live meeting. It is far easier to maintain anonymity online, as well, which may help the patient relax and be able to share more with others. Here are some online communities:
Studies have been conducted to gauge the direct effect of support groups on the health of cancer patients. A Stanford study comparing members of a breast cancer support group with a control group showed a large benefit by sharing experience. Some experts have attributed the apparent benefit to the placebo effect. More research is currently being conducted for more definitive proof.
Cancer patients wishing to join a support group may get a referral from their doctor, nurse, social worker or another patient who is already a member. Support groups are as variable as cancer itself, so the patient may have to try more than one to find the right fit. The most important thing is getting the support.